Aphorisms in Emergencies

I was struck by something Rahm Emanuel, President-elect Obama’s White House chief of staff, said the other day: “You don’t ever want a crisis to go to waste; it’s an opportunity to do important things that you would otherwise avoid.” With a little editing (”Never let a crisis to go to waste”) this is not only a great aphorism but a great summation of what aphorisms can do for you. There are plenty of crises to go around these days, whether they be personal, financial, professional, psychological, ecological, or otherwise. Aphorisms are designed for use in just such emergencies but, in contrast to the trite platitudes that too often pass for wisdom, aphorisms do not offer solutions.

Aphorisms don’t even make you feel better. Instead, as Emanuel’s quotation demonstrates, they urge you deeper into crisis as the only way to get out of crisis. Aphorisms don’t offer any false sense of hope that things will be easy. It is impossible to be complacent in the face of a good aphorism. What they do offer is a burst of strength, an invigorating injection of confidence and determination to meet whatever challenges face you.

I came across this aphorism via the AfriGadget website:

When you have nothing, anything is possible.

That is not by any stretch of the imagination a comforting saying, but it is inspiring. And in an emergency, inspiration is more valuable than consolation. This saying made me think of perhaps the greatest crisis management aphorism of all time. When you’re feeling hopeless, just break the glass and pull this lever, supplied by the inimitable Winston Churchill:

When you’re going through hell, keep going.